What is mammography?
It is an investigation that is routinely used to evaluate any abnormality in one’s breast/s tissue and armpits. The report is called a mammogram. It is more sensitive than self-breast examination (done by self) and clinical breast examination (done by a doctor in clinic), to detect and evaluate breast lumps. Mammography helps detect cancer in the breast/s when very small and not palpable. This has saved patients’ lives by detecting breast cancer at an early stage.
Breast cancer is the most common female cancer in urban India and worldwide. One in every 28 urban women are being detected with breast cancer in India. Early detection translates to cures and mammography is the first step in the management of breast cancer.
Types of mammography-
Screening mammography – is done when one has no reported abnormality in the breast. It is done to look for any lumps which could be potentially abnormal and direct further testing. It is recommended by various international and national guidelines to undergo screening starting from the age of 40 years, annually or once every 2 years. It is also recommended to be done at a high-volume centre, such as ours, which has a dedicated breast unit.
Diagnostic mammography – is done when a patient reports recent changes in the breast, which include a lump (most commonly), changes in the breast size or shape, and changes in the skin such as ulcers, nodules, and redness. Other symptoms include abnormal nipple discharge, ulceration, and eczema, also axillary swellings. This is usually followed by a biopsy of the lump.
Breast cancer survivors are advised annual mammograms post-completion of their treatment, to detect any new onset breast lumps.
How is it done?
It uses low-dose X-rays which are emitted through a mammography machine and targeted through the breast tissue. The breast under evaluation (one at a time) is compressed between the machine plates and then images are taken of them and studied.
At our centre, we have digital mammography with tomosynthesis for better-quality images of the breast, in addition to screening and diagnostic mammography.
Is it harmful?
There is a worry associated with exposure to radiation and that is a common reason that dissuades women from doing the test. The radiation emitted during this test is however very low and there have not been any radiation exposure related cancers reported till date. So, overall it is safe.